Nancy Anderson’s backyard, a once-green haven, changed suddenly and without warning last month.
“I had no idea this was going on,” she said of the area behind her yard, which has been thinned of trees. “Nobody told us this was coming. The excavators just showed up one day.”
Anderson lives in Somers Point on Cedar Court, which ends about 35 feet from the Garden State Parkway’s right-of-way. The buffer between her home and the highway was always a dense cordon of oak trees that, when they filled out in the summer, blocked much of the noise and the view of cars from the highway.
Now, just a handful of trees remain to screen the parkway.
Hundreds of trees along the Garden State Parkway north of milepost 30 have been cut down in recent weeks and stacked in large piles along both sides of the highway, as if pulled from a scene of the tree-hungry Discovery Channel series "American Loggers."
The work is part of a $5.9 million maintenance effort designed to keep drivers safe and the roadway clear of debris, says the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which overees the 172-mile parkway.
"It is part of our Clear Zone Maintenance program, which is a periodic tree removal initiative that, as the trees grow, keeps them from falling down in the road and figures to give drivers a bigger margin of error while driving," said Tom Feeney, a spokesman for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. "We don't like to let the trees grow so they're right up on the side of the road because of the safety concerns it creates."
But New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel, said he would prefer the trees were not taken down.
"That's a lot of trees and a waste of money. ... Sounds like a good deal for the logger and not such a good deal for the environment," Tittel said. "It will cause more pollution, more runoff issues, and work is being done along part of the Parkway that runs through the Pinelands. It's only going to hurt the habitat of a lot of the species of animals that live there. Not only is it ugly to look at, it will hurt the environment and the community around it."
Anderson, 54, lives in the home with her sister Kate Lewis, 48, Lewis’ son Darryl Edwards, 25, and Edwards’ daughter, Vanessa Miller, 7. They share the home Anderson’s parents bought in 1990 with their three dogs.
Her house is somewhat secluded from the neighborhood of townhouses and semi-detached homes, sitting down a short gravel lane screened by phragmites. It is on a little rise of high ground surrounded on two sides by wetlands.
“Now I think we’ll be inviting folks in the summer going home on the parkway in for a barbecue,” she said.
The tree removal did not worry everyone who lived near the roadway.
Helen Ji, 31, lives on Bala Drive in Somers Point. A renter, she said she was not bothered by the loss of trees.
Similarly, Bill Bader, 76, who lives on Scarlett Oak Circle in Egg Harbor Township, said the crews carried out mostly dead and dying trees. But he said he did not think anyone could stop the trees from being removed.
“We only pay taxes,” he said, “We don’t have a say.”
The tree removal is not part of the massive $900 million Garden State Parkway project which, when completed, will widen the roadway between mileposts 80 in Toms River and 30 in Somers Point. The New York-based infrastructure construction company, The Delaney Group Inc., is doing the clearing between mileposts 30 and 64.5, close to the stretch of the parkway targeted for the next phase of the widening. Work is nearing completion on the phase that widened lanes from Exit 63 in Stafford Township to Exit 80 in Toms River.
But Feeney said the two projects are not connected.
"Originally, this was billed as Clear Zone Maintenance for this entire stretch, and, also, the northern part was going to be worked into the removal for the widening project," he said. "But we're still in the planning process for the next phase of the widening, and any actual work is so far away that some of the trees will probably have started to grow back by the time work begins on the widening."
Feeney said the Turnpike Authority conducted a similar tree clearing on the parkway last year between mileposts 0 and 30, but 1991 was the last time the stretch from 30 to 64.5 was cleared.
"It is expensive and kind of a big job, so we have to have the means available to do it. … And (the piles of trees) can be traumatic to see for some people. But when it grows back, it has to be cleared," Feeney said, adding there have been "a few tragic incidents" in recent years when trees have fallen on motorists in the roadway.
The downed trees were once targeted to be turned into pellets for energy-efficient stoves and boilers. But Feeney said the trees were found to not be suitable for that and the contractor will turn them into mulch.
Anderson’s and Lewis’ families have lived adjacent to the parkway for a quarter century. Even though the parkway is only yards from her back porch, Lewis said a thick buffer of trees prevented any major issues, especially in the summer when traffic is at its peak.
But over the course of two days, the view from Lewis' kitchen window has gone from a tranquil wooded setting to a wide-open view of the Parkway.
"I'm heartbroken," said Lewis, 48. "They told us that they would be taking down some trees as part of the widening project, but we never expected that it would be this many."
Lewis is already seeing negative impacts from the tree removal.
"We never had any flooding issues before, but now we're starting to see a lot of it and there hasn't even really been a heavy rainstorm yet. The animals are walking around looking confused, because their homes are gone. The noise from the parkway is so much louder, and where the trees used be, there is just trash everywhere," Lewis said. "It's absolutely terrible."
Contact Robert Spahr:
Contact Derek Harper: